Sometimes at Macalester an activity turns into an apprenticeship turns into a career.
Such is the story of Willie Gambucci ’12 (Minneapolis) and Isabel Nelson ’04, who first worked together in 2010. Nelson came to Macalester that spring to train the cast of Accidental Death of an Anarchist in clowning and physical comedy. She had learned that art form during two years spent at the London International School of Performing Arts.
While coaching the Accidental Death cast she met Gambucci, an English major and theatre minor who’d been tapped to play the Maniac—a leading role requiring much physical comedy. Nelson was so impressed with the then-sophomore’s performance that she asked him to be in her Fringe Festival production of Ballad of the Pale Fisherman, a reimagining of the Irish selkie myth. “I knew he moved well and had a lot of physical capability and a real hunger for this kind of work,” says Nelson.
After that award-winning production, Nelson cast Gambucci in her 2011 Fringe Festival offering, Red Resurrected, a kind of mash-up of Little Red Riding Hood, the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, and the landscape and music of Appalachia.
Gambucci will also appear in the remounted version of Pale Fisherman, to be performed Feb. 9–26 at Minneapolis's Illusion Theater. “It’s been wonderful to watch him grow in his capabilities and skill set,” says Nelson. “Willie feels like an integral part of this ensemble now.”
As for Gambucci, he admits to being a sort of accidental actor, having joined his first play during high school because of a girlfriend. Now, after performing multiple big roles at Macalester and with two Fringe Festival experiences under his belt, he plans to pursue an acting career after graduation. “My feeling about theater,” he says, “is that I don’t want it to be something I didn’t go for when I had the chance.”
Working with Nelson has been a key part of his transition from sometime actor to would-be professional, Gambucci says. “Working with Isabel I got a window into the big but close Twin Cities theater community. It’s cool to be thrown into that world. I feel lucky to have had that experience of theater outside of school.”
As for Nelson, her connection to Macalester continues to grow. Her day job is working as a Macalester admissions officer, she assistant directed the college’s production of Twelve Ophelias last spring, and this fall she taught a physical comedy workshop to one of Professor Beth Cleary’s classes. “I’ve found it really fulfilling to be a part of the theater department in this way, “she says. “Mac students are so smart and passionate and engaged. It feels great to give back to the department and be a part of the students’ growth.”